Björk’s Vulnicura manages to pull off an admirable feat by balancing intricate production with emotive rawness. The album offers a brutally comprehensive forensic analysis of Björk’s failed relationship with famed visual artist Matthew Barney. The tracks thematically capture the slow death of a long-term relationship and gradual acceptance of loss.
“Stone Milker” captures Björk’s futile yet hopeful attempts to restore her relationship over sweeping strings. In “Lion Song” she conveys her insecurity with a clarity and courage despite heartbreak. “Maybe he will call my name,” Björk sings over and over, trying to convince herself that her relationship is not yet over. “History of Touches” brings the listener to Björk’s bedroom as she looks at her sleeping lover and struggles to feel emotional closeness despite physical proximity.
The album builds to the 10-minute long “Black Lake,” which combines plaintive strings and exposed vocals to finally capture Barney’s departure from Björk’s life. Björk cycles from depression (“I am one wound”) to anger (“You betrayed your own heart”) and finally to a gradual acceptance (“As I enter the atmosphere/ I burn off layer after layer”).
Sometimes the lyrics can be a little too direct: “I’m tuning my soul to the universal wavelength,” croons Björk in “Atom Dance.” However, the masterful production makes up for it, and “Atom Dance” showcases Björk’s excellent curation of collaborators with Anthony Hegary’s electronically manipulated vocals blending perfectly with Arca’s cataclysmic bass. Arca, who has worked with Kanye West and FKA twigs, makes his presence known throughout the album—the syncopated bass on “Mouth Mantra” is almost as good as Björk’s singing.
The album ends on “Quicksand,” where Björk accepts that the loss of her partner will be part of her forever: “When I’m broken I am whole/ And when I’m whole I’m broken.” This acceptance is no longer tinged with the anger earlier in the album. Björk creates an album out of emotional devastation that is personal, powerful, and highly recommended by this reviewer.